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Bush blokes take unusual steps to send struggling farmers a message of support

By Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Bec Zajac for Life Matters, Friday March 8, 2019 - 11:15 EDT
ABC licensed image
Ken Clarke (left) and Robert Floyd took part in the fashion parade to show their support for farmers. - ABC licensed

For 72-year-old Victorian farmer Robert Floyd — more familiar with cattle than catwalks — an invitation to take part in a fashion parade came out of left field.

But farmers, more than many, know how to take a challenge in their stride.

So Mr Floyd, and his good friend Ken Clarke, the 82-year-old Mayor of Wangaratta, donned their finest flannies to take part in the Bush Blokes Fashion Parade.

Run by non-profit organisation Celebrate Ageing, the Melbourne event provided some light relief for farmers who are doing it tough — particularly those who are older.

But it also offered them a serious message: that their struggle does not go unnoticed.

'It astounds me, their bravery'

Mr Floyd and his family have 2,500 sheep and around 600 cattle, and live in the depths of drought.

So when the opportunity emerged to raise awareness about the effects of drought on farmers, albeit in the unfamiliar setting of a fashion parade, he took it seriously.

He says his catwalk debut was "a great night", with around 200 people in attendance to cheer him and Cr Clarke on.

For many, it was a moment of respite.

Mr Floyd describes the farming problems he faces as around "two on a scale out of 10".

But many other farmers around him are doing it tougher, he says, particularly those in places like New South Wales and Queensland.

In those states, he says, "they hit 10 out of 10, and they keep going".

"It astounds me, their bravery."

Mr Floyd likens farmers enduring the conditions of flood and drought to the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Beersheba during World War One.

There, he explains, young Australians in the 4th Light Horse Brigade walked their horses day and night, without feed or water, before their famous charge of Beersheba.

"I think of how brave they were," he said.

"They faced insurmountable odds [but] they knew they had to get into Beersheba and had to win to get water for their horses."

Today, he says, farmers are "fighting a drought and dryness".

"I see the parallel between the two as being quite dramatic. You become so proud of these people, of their fortitude and their ability to fight on in drought. It's quite something."

Cr Clarke knows how much drought and floods have devastated the people in his municipality.

"To hear some of the farmers and their health issues really frightens me that we'll have some more suicides around the place," he said.

"They just suffer so much."

He saw participating in the fashion parade as a way of drawing attention to the specific issues farmers face and "making it easier for people to think about mental health".

The predominantly elderly audience members were highly engaged, he says, suggesting they appreciated the opportunity to have their challenges highlighted.

Cr Clarke says older farmers face specific difficulties, such as having to repair fences and complete physical work necessary around the farm — things they could once do with ease.

The prospect of life off the farm presents provides further worries still.

"I'm continually talking to constituents who are concerned about where they're going to live as they get beyond living on their own," Cr Clarke said.

Letting farmers know they are seen

Cr Clarke says one of the good things about ageing is having "the experience and the knowledge to assist other people".

"There is help around, and I'm quite prepared to talk to many of our people who have a problem with looking after themselves or needing some support," he said.

"I'm quite happy for them to ring me and have a talk to me, and I'll see if I can steer them in right direction."

It's a reminder of the strength of rural communities, and supports Mr Floyd's belief that while "obviously there's a lot of tragedy" in drought, "something positive comes out of everything".

The fashion parade could be further proof of that.

Despite his initial hesitations, Mr Floyd thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the parade.

He says he'd even do it again — if his friend is on board.

"I couldn't say no," he said.

"I might have to wear make-up to cover my embarrassment, but if Ken Clarke's up for it — and he's an absolutely lovely man — I'd be up for it."


© ABC 2019

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